Thursday, April 17, 2008

Becky's Review of Speak

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 1999. Speak.

It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.

Meet Melinda. A ninth grader, a freshman. Maybe her experiences will remind you of your own high school days. Maybe not. But whether you were popular or among the outcasts, Speak has something vital to offer readers. Her story is powerful, yet not without humor.

THE FIRST TEN LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL

1. We are here to help you.

2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.

3. The dress-code will be enforced.

4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.

5. Our football team will win the championship this year.

6. We expect more of you here.

7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.

8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.

9. Your locker combination is private.

10. These will be the years you look back on fondly.

Speak places high school life under the microscope. In minute detail, the reader sees what high school is like perhaps from a perspective that is new to them. (Or perhaps one that feels all-too-familiar). The teachers. The students. The classmates. The classes. The cafeteria. The bus rides. Melinda isn't happy, and it shows, but she's an example of how appearances can be deceiving. Labeled a trouble maker by a few of her teachers and some of the administration, despised by most of her classmates, she would be easy to brush off, to cast aside as just another lazy, rebellious teen. A teen that needs discipline, punishment, stern lectures, but never a teen that needs compassion and mercy and understanding. But there is always more going on underneath the surface. Always.

I think Speak should be required reading for any adult who is working with teens or who plans to work with teens. As for requiring it for teens within the classroom setting, I'm not so sure. For one, any time a book is required it loses its power. If you "have" to read it, then it strips away most of your natural inclinations to like it. I certainly never "liked" any of my assigned reading. The message of Speak might lose its resonance if it is forced. Especially if it is dissected and analyzed for hidden messages and symbolism. That being said, I do feel it's a true must-read. And it does have much that would be discussion-worthy.

What do I love about Speak? Well, it's authentic. And it's thought-provoking. If you're an adult, it makes you remember (or is prone to making you remember) your own high school days. Rather those days were painful and you're still a bit bitter or if you were one of the rare who actually remember high school "as the best time of your life." It's all in the details. The small things. The small daily interactions of how you relate with others, and how they relate to you. All the little things that add up to create the big picture. I didn't read it as a teen. The book was published when I was in college. But I would hope that the book would help those teens who are going through some of these situations not feel so alone, so isolated. I would hope that they'd feel understood. And for those teens that are bullies, I hope that the book would make them think about their actions a little more, take time to think about how these "little" things are adding up to big-time misery for those that are 'beneath' them. I'm not naive enough to think that this book will have the same impact on every one who reads it. It is just one book after all. But I hope that those who do read it, it will have a strong enough impact that the story will stay with them for a while.

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